[STAFF EDITORIAL] Classroom meditation activities not as helpful as intended

Mindfulness+activities%2C+though+well+intentioned%2C+can+do+more+harm+than+good+to+students.

Kevin Chen

Mindfulness activities, though well intentioned, can do more harm than good to students.

Over the course of the past few years, SPA has started to implement measures in classrooms, meetings, and other environments to promote mindfulness in the community. The idea is to reduce stress, increase focus, and promote a general sense of “presence” within a space. However, students and staff alike don’t benefit from these measures. Sitting in silence for a few minutes at the beginning of a class does nothing to reduce the hours-long workload, the majority of it online, that many people in the SPA community have.
This is not to say that mindfulness does not have its benefits. Almost anyone can recite for you a laundry list of the positive effects mindfulness can have- better focus, better sleep, better stress management, better mental health, etc. Educators have reported it to be welcomed by their students, saying they have less behavioral flare-ups and tend to be calmer and more focused in class. A few teachers have even reported their students saying that mindfulness has made them more aware of themselves and how their thoughts tend to work. However, schools don’t always have what it takes to teach their students a version of mindfulness that works.
The mindfulness we see on a day-to-day basis is incredibly watered down. It’s a medley of Hindu and Buddhist teachings and the protocol from a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, which includes hour-long sessions and day-long retreats. Mindfulness, at its core, has a spiritual intensity to it. Like most things in life, it takes practice and work. Schools are often not equipped to provide mindfulness at the level at which it is effective. When hours of work, lots of it online, are unloaded onto staff and students, a minute of quiet at the beginning of a class or meeting does practically nothing.

A minute and a half staring at a peaceful stock image on the Smartboard at the beginning of an English class or twenty minutes of a staff meeting devoted to complete silence cannot bring people to the release true mindfulness suggests.”

Moreover, forced mindfulness essentially defeats the purpose of connecting to yourself and being in the here and now. In a high-stress environment like SPA, community members don’t often take kindly to their precious work time being taken from them.
Similarly, the hyper-awareness of oneself that mindfulness can promote can be detrimental, especially to the developing mind, and even more so to the developing mind that should be focusing on schoolwork. Being left alone with your thoughts for too long with no one equipped to handle mental health available can have the negative side effect of inducing symptoms of mental illness. This could be especially harmful to students with these conditions- leaving them alone to ruminate on their thoughts, feelings, and memories can be incredibly harmful.
It’s incredibly important that SPA cares about the mental health of its students and faculty. However, these measures can feel half-hearted and are often ineffective. Mental health in a school like SPA is a difficult tightrope to walk, so the best things SPA can do for the mental health of those in its community are adequate resources and listening to people’s concerns.